Yesterday I raced through yet another John Sandford murder mystery. Helpfully for my state of mind, it was a Virgil Flowers mystery, which is a small spin-off series from the Prey books about Lucas Davenport. Virgil is more laid-back than Davenport, who has an air of danger around him. Virgil doesn’t like to carry a gun and drags a fishing boat around Minnesota with him while he solves cases. It’s more lighthearted than some of the dark serial killer tales that involve Davenport, which helps me sleep easier.
In Rough Country, Virgil tries to solve the murder of a high-powered marketing exec from the Cities who is shot at a reclusive hideaway for women only, somewhere far from everything else. (Everything outside of the Minneapolis-Saint Paul nexus is referred to as “outstate.”) Virgil discovers, much to his chagrin, that most of the people involved in the case are lesbians, which puts a crimp in his style. Fortunately for Virgil, there’s a straight sister of one of the suspects, and he chases her down in hot pursuit. Funnily enough, Virgil seems to have a thing for suspects’ sisters; he becomes involved in one in the book Dark of the Moon as well.
Why read such silly stuff? I like the quick pacing and the ironic, funny way that Sandford writes. Especially when dealing with Virgil’s escapades, Sandford doesn’t take himself or his characters too seriously. Here’s an example:
I am a genuine piece of crumb cake, he thought, admiring his image in the mirror; there was that thing about the aluminum braces on his nose, and the tape, and the incipient black eyes, but a woman of quality could see past all that.
Sandford is also timely. He makes reference to the bankrupt Star-Tribune, and in his most recent Prey book, he worked in the Republican National Convention from August 2008. Sandford doesn’t glamorize murder or murder solving, as some TV shows do (I’m looking at you, CSI). He imbues his characters with compassion and regret, which gives the books more pathos than they would otherwise be due. Honestly, I can tell you that I want to run down the third Virgil Flowers book as soon as I can, as I’ve read all of the Prey books and the next one won’t be out for a few more months. I’m not sure if it gets easier to churn out 400 page pulpy thrillers as one ages, but at least someone is getting the job done.